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Free at Noon Flashback: Ben Arnold and the 48 Hour Orchestra break through the clouds with soulful jams

Ben Arnold | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

To kick off 2018 and the 13th year of WXPN’s Free at Noon concert series, long-time friend Ben Arnold, who is no stranger to World Cafe Live’s stage, performed a sleek and soulful set despite the abysmal weather currently inhabiting Philadelphia. Appearing in the Free at Noon series in its first year as a trio, the Philly-native returned with a backing band 10 members deep this time around. Dubbed “The 48 Hour Orchestra,” the band provided a spirited brass section, punchy drums assisted by congas, and heartfelt backing vocals to the set. Continue reading →

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Free At Noon Flashback: Slowey and the Boats says “Mele Kalikimaka” to a festive World Cafe Live crowd

Slowey and the Boats | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Philadelphia-based Hawaiian-inspired combo Slowey and the Boats took the World Cafe Live stage today, bringing seasons’ greetings and Christmas kitsch to the Free at Noon faithful.

Leading the band behind a light-up banner emblazoned with their name, steel guitar player Isaac Stanford smoothly plucked out the vocal melodies to instrumental renditions of holiday favorites like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” “White Christmas” and more. Joining him were Mike Hlatky on bass, Mike Pietrusko on drums, Nate Skiles on guitar and David Streim on Wurlitzer.   Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Cherry fills World Cafe Live with its sunny sounds

Cherry | photo by Liz Waldie for WXPN

The winter weather is finally setting in. My coffee got so cold during my 15-minute walk to XPN HQ this morning that I had to stop for another coffee. And with snow in the forecast this weekend, it’s hard to fight the instinct to wrap up in a blanket and never move.

Cherry, however, came to Free at Noon prepared to fight off the cold with their laid-back, fuzzed-out, and all-around beachy and chill vibes. The band was up first for today’s Free at Noon doubleheader, bringing with them the relaxed vibes of their new LP Dumbness. Their set, though short, eased the crowd into a vibrant afternoon of Philly tunes, which included fellow members of the Lame-O Records family Slaughter Beach, Dog — it was the perfect way to take shelter from the winter winds.

The World Cafe Live stage isn’t Cherry’s usual scene, though. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: The Lone Bellow exudes togetherness in an exuberant World Cafe Live set

The Lone Bellow | photo by Liz Waldie for WXPN

Fall — at least for me — is time for sad folk music. As leaves are painted warmer, and breezes are swept colder, that somber sweet-spot of brittle-strummed melancholy whispers endlessly from my earbuds. And as these songs are often paired with hopeless, dismal lyrics, this seasonal soundtrack tends to be more than a little depressing.

Enter: The Lone Bellow’s exuberantly optimistic vein of folk, which will have none of this dispirited business. Though in no way strangers to feelings of pain and devastation, members Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Donehy Pipkin have an infectious ability to channel their wounds into earnest hopefulness.

The result is a sound that lets you wallow — but only if we’re all wallowing together in unison. A sound that says yes, life is very often the absolute worst, and don’t worry, we are going to croak out the intense heartache of it all. But we are also going to yell and shout and stomp and clap up a storm of unbridled joy.

All of which these moods were summed up immediately at today’s sold out Free at Noon, as the trio opened their acoustic set by belting the bluesy prayer, “Is It Ever Gonna Be Easy,” off their newest album, Walk Into a Storm. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: First Aid Kit debuts powerful new material at World Cafe Live

First Aid Kit | photos by Liz Waldie for WXPN

It’s been far too long since the sweet sounds of Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit were heard live in Philadelphia. The band — led by sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg — celebrated the release of their last album Stay Gold with a Union Transfer show in 2014, and shortly after their dazzling 2015 XPN Fest appearance, announced they’d be taking a break before working on new material.

That break ended a few weeks ago, when First Aid Kit let their new single “It’s a Shame” out into the world. With a forthcoming LP yet to be announced, the sisters have been making a few stops around the US to share some of their new material, and lucky for us they found time to stop by World Cafe Live this afternoon for a sold out Free at Noon concert.

First Aid Kit’s eight-song set was a carefully curated mix of old favorites and previews of what the new album will bring. The timeless, Americana-inspired anthem “It’s a Shame” has been floating around the XPN airwaves quite a bit recently, so the packed World Cafe crowd was right at home when the band opened with the new song. The Söderberg sisters then took us back to the warm and inviting sounds of Stay Gold with that album’s soft and shimmering title track, leading the audience in clapping along, before launching into the not-yet-released “Postcard,” a delicate ballad with a classic country sound that showcases the duo’s signature sibling harmonies. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Tommy Castro & The Painkillers take the World Cafe Live back to their Stompin’ Ground

Tommy Castro | Photo by Liz Waldie for WXPN

Tommy Castro & The Painkillers‘ tour behind their new album Stompin’ Ground has been a self-described series of record release parties. And though the four-piece blues-meets-rock-‘n-roll band didn’t have an official tour date in Philly this round (they made a suburban stop at the Sellersville Theater last night), they sure brought the all the party spirit to the midday crowd at World Cafe Live this afternoon.

Playing for over an hour and drawing mostly from Stompin’ Ground — plus a few oldies and some covers — Tommy Castro & The Painkillers won the hearts of those in the audience and almost — just almost — made us want to take them up on their offer to hop in the tour bus and join them on the road as they head to Virginia to play Wolf Trap tonight. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Lo Moon continues their slow burn at World Cafe Live

Lo Moon | photo by Liz Waldie for WXPN

Ah, Lo Moon. The mysterious, mysterious band who came out of seemingly nowhere with their hit song, “Loveless,” last year. I was introduced to the group — comprised of Matt Lowell, Crisanta Baker, Sam Stewart, and touring drummer Sterling Laws — when prepping to see them at NonCOMM last May.  And though I clasped my super-sleuthing cap on tight in detective-like determination, I could find nothing, save the lone 7 minute-long, slow-burning and soaring atmospheric rock track.

This Friday, WXPN welcomed back the LA-based band as one of the three inaugural Slingshot artists for a moody and ambient Free at Noon. Still as enigmatic as ever, Lo Moon has just released one new track, “This Is It,” along with a live performance of their 80s pop hook track, “Real Love” with KCRW.  In an information-overload world of instant gratification, their patient material-reveal timeline whispers a sort of magical, otherworldly feel to their music. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band guide with guitars on their psychedelic sonic journey

Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band | photo by Liz Waldie for WXPN

I wonder how many guitar strings Chris Forsyth goes through in a year — or a month, or even a day. Because in just the forty-five minute span of today’s Free at Noon performance — or should I say, jam-fest — we lost more than a couple of brave string souls in the name of sweet, sweet music.

After the always-lovely Helen Leicht welcomed the Philly guitarist and his crew, The Solar Motel Band, on stage, hers would be the last voice the crowd would hear for the coming ten minutes. Instead, guitar gladly took its place.

Because, really, there’s no need for words when you can shred instead. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Deadfellow plays the lead in a postmodern rock drama

Deadfellow | photo by Emma Silverstone for WXPN

Deadfellow’s Hayden Sammak is quite a character. Burgundy velvet-jacketed and long-bearded, the Philly local looked every bit the old-fashioned classic rock n roller this Free at Noon as he drawled sweet verses of love and California livin’ while retro, psychadelic sounds bounced about.

But something just didn’t fit with this picture-perfect 60’s throwback. And if you’ve ever read an interview with the Deadfellow frontman, this disconnect makes perfect sense. Because despite the shiny exterior of Deadfellow’s latest album, Mescalifornia: A California Dream, the intent seems to be more sarcastic and critical in nature; where Hammak harps on a present-day shallow culture towards love. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Gordi bridges heady synth-rock and anthemic pop at World Cafe Live

Gordi | photo by Emma Silverstone for WXPN

After playing a Thursday night gig at Johnny Brenda’s and before heading down I-95 to play D.C.’s Songbyrd Music House, singer-songwriter Sophie Payten — known onstage as Gordi — stoped by World Cafe Live for a Free at Noon concert performance.

Sonically, the Sydney, Australia singer and songwriter manages to exist in numerous stylistic zones simultaneously. After opening on the majestic “Myriad,” a simmering spacey synth-driven track, the mood shifted with “All The Light,” a poppy, Paula Cole-ish number peppered with samples. After that taste of her forthcoming Reservoir LP, out August 25th, Gordi dove back to her Clever Disguise EP for “Wanting,” her acoustic guitar strums providing an organic counterpoint to the drumpad rhythm. Continue reading →